Saturday, April 25, 2015

Review: Auteur

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2015
Images from the Internet

Cinematography and directed by George Cameron Romero
MVD Visual / Benetone Hillin Entertainment
75 minutes, 2014

If you were an infamous and exacting horror director, how far would you go to make a scene successful? Would you give in to the mystic black arts to get your cast “motivated”? This is just one of the questions that is raised by this film by Cameron Romero, proving genes run deep (just ask Jason Reitman, Brandon Cronenberg or Jennifer Lynch). To get past it since I already brought it up, there is a second-long homage to Cameron’s dad in a video store shelf panning shot (shown twice, but that’s okay).

Ian Hutton
A found footage in documentary style, Romero mixes these to a mostly successful level, giving a nice twist to the subgenres. The plot is that film auteur (a cinematic version of, say, Phil Spector, who makes everything he or she directs their own, hence the auteur/author descriptor) named Charlie Buckwald (Ian Hutton) who has made an exorcism film called Demonic, and then disappeared with the only DVD of the completed film.

BJ Hendricks
The head of the studio sends his impulsive and not-to-bright ne’er-do-well son, Jack Humphries (BJ Hendricks, who inexplicable has Southern accent considering Jack grew up in Hollywood), to find Charlie and retrieve the lost film. In that framework, Jack is an unsuccessful filmmaker himself (can’t even get a break from his studio head dad, for example). How incompetent is Jack? After following around Charlie and then losing him, he asked the camera guy what he should do next (in my opinion that was a smart bit of insightful writing).

With elements of Hideo Nakata’s Ringu (1998) and Lamberto Bava’s Demoni (1985), we are given a strong hint pretty early on that things don’t go well for Jackie-boy (if it weren’t so close to the beginning, I wouldn’t mention it). Thanks to a provided clue that is no mystery at all who sent it though it dumbfounds Jack (as in “he don’t know Jack shit”), he tracks down the very edgy and neurotic / paranoid Buckwald (Hutton does focused director and nutzoid both pretty well and manages to make them both believable). The reason why the sender didn’t go to get the DVD unaided is questionable; yes, I understand the familial relationships (this comment will make more sense when you see the film), but it doesn’t jibe with the ending.

Much of the story is kind of predictable, I admit, but it was still an enjoyable ride nonetheless. Part of this is due to the high quality of acting, much stronger than most indie films and certainly better than the early works of, well, any of the daddies listed above.

Madeline Merritt
Top credit is given to name actor Tom Sizemore, obviously being a gentleman and helping a bro (i.e., a crew member; probably a Romero) out. He plays a version of himself (at least I hope it’s a “version”), having been an actor in the film-with-a-film Demonic and giving snarky and insulting answers while interviewed at a bar. With a voice that sounds like three miles of gravel road, he belittles poor Jack, questions his manhood, and is definitely a hostile witness. It also sounds like his dialogue was ad libbed, and if that’s so, it’s hysterically funny if not painful for the mistreatment of Jack. His screed against the number of deaths associated with the film and how it’s a lie, like the conspiracy theories surrounding The Exorcist (1973) show the actor’s/character’s need for ego dominance.

The lead actress of Demonic is Kate Rivers (the fetching Madeline Merritt). Her role in the whole Jack-meets-Charlie scenario is quite blatant, but Merritt’s strong acting (better than Kate’s) keeps the character interesting. From ingénue to seductress, she fits the part well. Also noteworthy are secondary characters Bruce Chaplin (Matt Mercer) and Allison Marx (Eli Jane), the latter of who explains, “on camera” that anyone who goes looking for info about what happened on the set “ends up in the dirt.”

Eli Jane
Watching Jack’s work post-editing, it’s easy to see why he’s unsuccessful. Though familiar with some of the filmmaking equipment Charlie has horded in his family home owned by his late parents (tell me again why he was hard to find?), he doesn’t really show much knowledge of how they are used. Romero, on the other hand, obviously grew up on sets and around the art of cinema magic, and it seems like he is at ease with the ways to make a story work, even one with holes that took three writers. Don’t get me wrong, the film is well crafted around dialog and scenery, there just needs to be more cohesion to the story. That there are two scenes in the film in which one includes two-camera editing rather than the one, hand-held camera of Jack’s, and another where the camera is obviously handheld, but the camera guy is no longer there for a private conversation.

As I’ve said a number of times before, when you look back at some of the early works of some auteur genre directors, yes, including daddy, there have been questionable moments in both acting and directing, but here, Romero puts together a really solid cast, keeps the interest going even with the issues in the story, and to me that shows quite a bit of potential. Romero has a half dozen or so films competed including this one (his latest to date), and hopefully he has the opportunity to keep stretching out.


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